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Temple Avodat Shalom is a community where individuals and families can worship, study, and assemble within the context of Reform Judaism. We accept and encourage a wide range of ideas and expressions of Judaism.
We provide for the lifelong educational needs of all our congregants, helping to cultivate an appreciation of our heritage and the joys of Judaism. Our educational goals include teaching Jews of all ages a love of God, an understanding of Torah, and identification with Israel.
Our congregation is devoted to acts of loving-kindness (g'milut chasidim) and healing the world (tikkun olam) through our many social action programs within and beyond our Jewish community. We are committed to equality between men and women, reaching out to interfaith couples, and a respect for Jewish ritual traditions. We are dedicated to meeting the needs of our families, with a focus on our children, who are our future. In the spirit of our faith and our founders, we endeavor to provide a warm community and a chain of continuity for all who wish to share our home.
The "prophet" Elijah is accorded a place of honor at every brit milah (ceremony of circumcision), as well as when we make havdalah, the separation between Shabbat and the rest of the week. This Shabbat before Pesach, known as Shabbat Ha-Gadol, the Great Sabbath, Elijah features prominently in our Haftarah, our reading from the prophets. We are told, "Lo, I [God] will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome, fearful day of the Lord." Next Shabbat, at our Pesach Seder, we will open the door to our homes and welcome Elijah into our midst. Why all the fuss about Elijah? Of all the biblical characters to choose from, what might this ancient figure still symbolize for us today?
Elijah is introduced to us as a healer, miracle worker, and an outspoken man of faith in God, in the middle of the 1st book of Kings. Called upon to respond to the idolatrous actions of the worshippers of Ba'al, Elijah takes matters into his own hands, literally. Fleeing into the wilderness for his life, he prays to God to take his life. The Bible relates how Elijah was comforted by the presence of an angel, offering him food and drink. Proceeding further on his journey, Elijah approaches a cave at Mount Horeb, also known as Sinai, and there experiences God's presence:
Then the word of the LORD came to him. God said to him, "Why are you here Elijah?" Elijah replied, "I am moved by zeal for the Lord, the God of Hosts, for the Israelites have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and put Your prophets to the sword. I alone am left, and they are out to take my life." "Come out," God called, "and stand on the mountain before the LORD."
And lo, the LORD passed by. There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks by the power of the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind--an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake--fire; but the LORD was not in the fire.
And after the fire--a still, small voice. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his mantle about his face and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then a voice addressed him, "Why are you here, Elijah?"
Fearing for his life, fearing the backlash that may transpire if he returns from whence he came, Elijah undergoes nothing short of a spiritual epiphany. To be standing in that cave, to see and feel the sound and fury of the wind, the earthquake and the fire, must have been a remarkable, earth-shattering experience for Elijah.
But our text is clear. It is not merely the wind, the earthquake and the fire that matter for Elijah's transformation. It's not the big nature-shifting event beforehand, but rather what happens in the stillness, in the peace and reflective quiet thereafter. The defining moment in this text is the still, small voice, the whisper in Elijah's heart and soul, the gentle call of God asking him, "Why are you here, Elijah?" that compels him toward the entrance of the cave, and urges him to continue his journey of faith.
A personal story, if I may. Nearly ten years ago, as my mother was dying from cancer, I was in my last year of rabbinical school, and I remember expressing to her, rather selfishly and unaware, how much it would mean to me if she would live long enough to be present at my ordination as a rabbi. Grief can make us do remarkable, inexplicable things. But my mom wasn't one to pull punches. She said, "Paul, I'll be lucky to survive the week. And why are you so worried about having me at your ordination? Your work as a rabbi will be about the people you teach, counsel and comfort. What you will do every day will matter. The moment in which you walk across the stage and receive a diploma won't matter as much."
My mother's message that the little, everyday things that we do matter, and matter so much more than the big, demonstrative, seemingly newsworthy moments, is God's message to Elijah. Not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire does Elijah hear God, but in the still, small voice after the fact. The news media, the live feed on Facebook, and the world draw our attention to big events -- buildings exploding and collapsing, elected leaders who can be manipulative, indecisive and corrupt, unthinkable and unbearable images from the Middle East. There are watershed moments in our lives when tragedy strikes, when friends, family members and people in our community are stricken with illness.
But Elijah's defining moment comes in the stillness and the quiet. Bracing himself, Elijah approaches the entrance of the cave where God asks him, "Why are you here, Elijah?" Elijah didn't have it easy, but he couldn't give up either. He couldn't remain cowering in that cave forever, praying for God to take his life. He had to be able to answer God's question to him. Why was he there? What was his purpose? What was he being called to accomplish in the world?
God's question to Elijah is also God's question to us. Why are we here? What is our purpose? What are we being called to accomplish in the world? Life wasn't easy for our ancestors and it isn't easy for us. Living with faith and hope, working to construct a better future for our world isn't easy. But like Elijah, God asks us, after all that we have seen and witnessed, after all that we have been through and will still go through, can we respond to the still, small voice within us? Can we wipe away the tears, wrap the mantle about our faces, and stand at the entrance of the cave, preparing to embark on our sacred journeys once more?
We live in a day and age, much like Elijah's time, where we face a crisis of faith in God, where many among us express indifference to the teachings of our faith, and we are disenchanted by the purpose of religion. But 18th century Hasidic master Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky explains that all people have an "Elijah quality," which continually awakens their desire for God. Our Haftarah this Shabbat offers each individual an invitation to overcome the fragmentation of the self and realize the fullness of one's divine nature. As Professor Michael Fishbane explains, "This prophecy on Shabbat Ha-Gadol is a reminder to heed a deeper wisdom, whose personal fulfillment has a messianic dimension."
Why all the fuss about Elijah? Because when the still, small voice cried out, Elijah was prepared to listen. God's call to Elijah is God's call to us. When a baby is brought into the covenant of the Jewish people, Elijah's presence reminds us that this very child can bring healing and redemption into the world. When we sing Eliyahu Ha-Navi at Havdalah on Saturday night, we are to remember that the joy and peace of Shabbat is fleeting, it occurs only once in seven days, and we must spend the other six, making the world a better, helping others around us to recognize that they are made in God's image. When we open the door for Elijah at our Pesach Seder, we don't stop to ask, "Why are you here, Elijah?" but rather, maybe Elijah asks us, "Why are you here?" The great, awesome day of the Lord referenced in our Haftarah this Great Shabbat, this Shabbat Ha-Gadol, can come in each and every moment of our lives, if only we would respond to the still, small voice, which from the depths of our hearts and souls, calls us to a life of purpose.